Novel method uses Biogelx gels to gain new insights into breast cancer cell migration.


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Spotlight interview with Louise M. Mason

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Louise Mason, I am currently doing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering (University of Glasgow and CRUK Beatson Institute) funded by SofTMech and supervised by Prof. Huabing Yin (engineering), Prof. Michael Olson (biology) and Prof. Ray Ogden (mathematics) and in collaboration with Dr. Manlio Tassieri. I previously graduated from Strathclyde University with a Masters in Pure and Applied Chemistry with Drug Discovery.

2. What research does you/your lab focus on?

My research focuses on the biomechanical contribution of cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM) to cancer invasion. One of the most destructive characteristics of cancer is metastasis; the ability of primary tumour cells to migrate to form secondary tumours at other locations within the body. How a tumour responds mechanically (structure, stiffness, flow) to its environment and treatment are not well understood. Therefore, there is a need for new methods to measure how cancer cells migrate. So far, we have developed a novel method for measuring the linear viscoelastic properties of complex materials and living cells under physiological conditions. Our method was used to gain new insights into breast cancer cell migration with therapeutics using atomic force microscopy, rheology and traction force microscopy.

3. Why is it so important to use synthetic 3D Cell Culture materials in your research?

As my work focuses on cell-ECM biomechanical interactions, it is important to me to move away from standard petri dishes and have a biocompatible scaffold that mimics tissue. With artificial materials, I have more control of the chemistry and stiffness the cells experience to not only mimic natural ECM, but to look at ideal properties for drug delivery materials.

4. Have you tried any alternative gels/bio-inks? What are the key features of a good gel/bio-ink?

I have tried a few other materials during my PhD. Besides the obvious factors that the gel should have good optical clarity and biocompatibility, I think the main feature of a good hydrogel is reproducibility. Synthetic alternatives give this control, without the batch-to-batch variation commonly found in animal derived materials. For my work, I am interested in altering chemistry of the fibres as well as stiffness. The bottom-up self-assembly approach to the design of the fibres within the Biogelx gels means the chemical moieties can be altered more easily than other gels I have used.

5. How easy is to use Biogelx products (hydrogels)?

The lyophilised products are easy to use as you can prepare it at room temperature by mixing with water and adding media to promote gelation, which is easier than alternatives I have tried previously. A booklet of protocols was included for a variety of cell culture techniques. Initially, finding the right set up for new applications takes some trial and error for any 3D cell culture hydrogel. However, it was quick to find out what works best for my cell line and chosen microscopy techniques.

6. What cell types do you use in your research? Please share your experience in growing cells in our gel(s).

I mainly use MDAMB231 breast cancer cells for my research. When culturing in Biogelx gels, I noticed that the cell morphology within the gels looks very similar to that of the cells in their natural ECM. As cancer invades through the body, it travels through a variety of tissue types with largely different physiochemical properties, therefore, being able to tune this in vitrois highly desirable for migration studies.

7. What are the next steps in your research?

After researching the dynamic viscoelastic properties and morphology of cancer cells using traditional cell culture techniques, I want to move my studies into more in vivo-like environments, constructed using hydrogels. This will enable me to measure cell migration through biocompatible tissue mimics, and thus linking cell morphology, mechanics with cytoskeletal structure as cancer cells invade through different stiffnesses of tissue. Understanding the mechanical properties of the hydrogels will allow us to quantify the magnitude and direction of forces that the cells exert across each tuned environment.

 

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